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This photo combination, clockwise from top left, shows Georgia Senator David Perdue, Democratic candidate for Senate Jon Ossoff, Georgia senator Kelly Loeffler and Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate Raphael Warnock. / Photos by Chattanooga Times Free Press photographers Troy Stolt, Matt Hamilton and Associated Press photographers John Bazemore and Brynn Anderson.

Regardless of whether Republican incumbents David Perdue or Kelly Loeffler or their Democratic challengers John Ossoff or Raphael Warnock win next week's Senate elections in Georgia, Chattanooga's broadcast stations have been big winners in the costliest campaign ever in the Peach State.

The Georgia Senate runoffs are so awash in political cash that the ad wars spilled into neighboring states, and more than doubled the political advertising Chattanooga stations received from all of the Tennessee races in 2020.

In a year in which the pandemic trimmed traditional ad buying by many businesses, a record campaign spending year gave a welcome boost for local broadcasters.

"This is definitely the most robust advertising spend that we have ever seen in Chattanooga," said Todd Ricke,general manager for Sinclair Broadcasting in Chattanooga which owns and handles sales for WTVC NewsChannel 9 (Chattanooga's ABC affiliate); WTVC 9.2, or Fox Chattanooga (a Fox affiliate), and WFLI-TV, or The CW Chattanooga (a CW affiliate). "Covid did take a hit on all advertising, but with the political ads and standard advertising it was actually a great year for Chattanooga in general."

Campaign spending on television and radio in Chattanooga swelled following the Nov. 3 election when no candidates in either of Georgia's U.S. Senate races got a majority of the vote, forcing a runoff in both races on Tuesday that could determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the U.S. Senate under President-elect Joe Biden.

"I've been here 25 years and I've never seen it like this," said Gregg Acuff, the general sales manager at WRCB in Chattanooga. "It's been a real blessing for us this year in a year of Covid, although I'm sure some folks will be anxious to see all these ads come to an end."

Ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential elections, Acuff said campaign spending was nearly 60% above what station officials had expected and political advertising on Chattanooga broadcast stations in the Georgia senate runoffs over the past two months has exceeded the spending on all other races earlier in the year

"When it comes to political advertising, candidates and campaigns do rely upon broadcast advertising, be it on television or radio," Ricke said. "They want to be able to get in someone's home while they are sitting down watching the news or entertainment and they have our attention."

Ricke estimates at least 60% of the political spending on Chattanooga stations has become out of Georgia.

BIA/Kelsey Advisory Services, a consulting firm that tracks the media industry, estimates nearly $17 million of political advertisement was spent in the Chattanooga market for direct mail, television and radio ads and social media promotions. Television commercials usually account for about 40% of such campaign advertising.

Most of the spending is coming from the candidate campaigns, which must be offered the best available advertising rate if a station accepts any political ads. But such restrictions do not apply to Political Action Committees, which paid $7,000 for a 30-second ad on WRCB-TV's 6 p.m. local news broadcast even as about three-fourths of Channel 3 viewers don't even live in Georgia.

"It's a leave-no-voter-behind mentality," Jack Pandol, a spokesman for two Republican super PACs airing ads in — and around — Georgia, told the New York Times. "These are very close elections and we anticipate that every vote will count."

Nearly $500 million in television, radio and digital ads have run or been reserved in the Georgia Senate runoffs so far, according to AdImpact.

The fact that Google and Facebook banned political ads on their platforms — two of the internet's biggest — into December further drove the campaigns and super PACs toward television and radio ads.

Television viewers in Atlanta are bearing the brunt of an advertising blitz that is expected to end up as the costliest Senat races in American history. Because the race is seen as so close, candidates and political action committees are trying to raise and buy all the broadcast time they can to persuade any undecided voters.

Out-of-state media markets that intersect with even a tiny fraction of prized Georgia voters are being inundated with political commercials in the Georgia Senate race, according to the New York Times. AdImpact, a media-tracking firm, estimates nearly $35 million in advertising has been aired or reserved since Nov. 3 in markets based in four states surrounding Georgia.

In the Greenville, South Carolina, market, as little as 5 percent of the viewership lives in Georgia, but AdImpact meaning roughly $5.5 million of the $5.8 million spent so far there is reaching the wrong voters.

So far, the biggest out-of-state market for spending has been Jacksonville, which has $13.1 million booked in Georgia Senate advertising.

"It's a phenomenon like we haven't seen," said Bob Ellis, the general manager at WJXT in Jacksonville.

He estimated that Georgians make up about 10 percent of his viewers. His station has seen millions of dollars in political spending anyway.

"In a year where we had a pandemic, it's certainly unexpected and welcomed," Ellis said.

Material was used from The New York Times for this story.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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